Comparing Butterflies to Parthenon Marbles

I came across a terrific article written by the always-entertaining Harold Schonberg while working on my book the other day. The piece, “Recitalists who Adhere to ‘Tradition’ in Their Programs May Court Disaster,” appeared the New York Times in 1960, and I’ve pasted an excerpt from it below.

No artist who ever lived has been master of all styles. Even a genius like Rachmaninoff sounded rather silly on those rare occasions he played Mozart of Debussy. And yet, year after year, march the divisions of hopefuls with programs that encompass a capsule history of music.
Thus we get the spectacle of an ardent young violinist, obviously of a temperament that would tear down the hall in Paganini, scraping away at unaccompanied Bach. Or the converse: a young man who would be only too happy to play unaccompanied Bach to the best of his considerable ability along those lines, but who feels it his duty to play Paganini miserably.
Why in the name of artistic suicide do these things so often happen? Simply because tradition, that dried-up and unimaginative old spinster, has so decreed.
It is high time that artists realized they should program only the things that they feel they can play, not the things they think they should play. If an artist has a romantic temperament, he should avoid Scarlatti or unaccompanied Bach, and confine himself to Chopin, Schumann, Liszt, Brahms. If his allegiance is to the moderns, on with Hindemith, Prokofieff and Schoenberg; out with everything else.
But then enters, draped in black, the figure of the wise man. How, he asks in his infinite wisdom, can an artist be judged until he plays Mozart and Beethoven? THEY are the ultimate test, and not until then can the artist be given a pass to the pantheon. So says the wise man.
But this argument, though it has been parroted for years, is nonsense, and dangerous non-sense at that. Is it not good enough that an artist does a particular segment of the repertory with flair? Is not a fine Ravel interpretation preferable to a second-rate Beethoven one? Should not an artist be given credit for what he can do, rather than insults for what he does not even attempt to do? What smug superiority it is to set up standards by which a butterfly must be compared to an Elgin marble!